Saturday, January 19, 2008

Therrific or Therrible?

A couple of days ago, RDS posted a video about Michel Therrien to "commemorate" his last day with the Canadiens franchise. In typical RDS fashion, the piece was spun out of control to suggest that Therrien may have been treated unfairly in his firing.

If you listen to the commentary in the whole video (from the LNH section on Jan 17, here), you come out feeling that Therrien was Therrific for the Habs at the time. If you look at the stats and remember the facts, though, you may not be so sure. For one thing, the report is full of mistakes and myths:

Montreal 2000 to 2003
The first element of spin showed Therrien amassing a .500 record over parts of three seasons with the Canadiens.

His record was 77-77-22(ties)-14(OTLs). And, in actual fact, he posted losing records in the portions of 2000-2001 and 2002-2003 in which he coached. Of course, every OTL counted as a tie in their assessment. While I accept that OTLs are worthwhile points, we also have to consider that more than half the teams in the league are over .500 by the RDS criteria, thus Therrien was a below average coach during his time in Montreal.

The second claim was that Michel Therrien had to deal with a team that more closely resembled an AHL team than an NHL team.

This is a commonly held belief among Canadiens fans when they look at the teams of the recent past. But, overlooked is the fact that Therrien had Jose Theodore, then a Vezina calibre goalie, who actually won the Hart trophy during his tenure. And, that one of the main reasons for this perception was the ridiculous number of players that played games for the Canadiens during his tenure.

In fact, if you thought Carbonneau could not stick with a line combination, take a look at the indecision of Michel Therrien's tenure, where he managed to use 68 different players over 2 years. In his first season, a remarkable 46 different players fulfilled the dream of playing with the Habs.

This may not have hurt the Habs so much, had it not been for Therrien's ridiculous propensity to opt for QMJHL players he had coached or coached against before - possibly because children used to listen to him, while the adult Canadiens chose to ignore him. Everyone remembers Laflamme and Traverse. But these were also the days where Brisebois was deployed as a number one defenseman and Dykhuis as a top 4. When injuries hit, Therrien subjected us to red hot prospect Descoteaux.

The third myth, was their ludicrous claim that the firing of Michel Therrien set off a period of musical chairs for the Canadiens coaching job.

This outlandish claim is laid to ridicule when you consider Therrien himself barely managed to hold on more than a couple of seasons. In fact, were it not for Jose Theodore, it might have been less.

To say that musical chairs followed Therrien doesn't really accurately report the facts. Though Julien lasted less than 2 full seasons, his replacement Bob Gainey was only ever meant as a temporary one anyway. Gainey's replacement, Carbonneau, has had a shorter tenure than Therrien, but of course we know that his is ongoing and would probably expect it to last longer than the old hydro-man's.

If one wanted to be picky, you could point out that there hasn't been a stable coach since Scotty Bowman in the 1970s, and musical chairs began with Habs coaching long before the unremarkable three year reign of Michel Therrien.

Finally, RDS notes that Therrien is the only coach to actually win a playoff series since Alain Vigneault in 1998.

Apart from being some of the worst reporting since RDS began, this report opted to conveniently omit the famous 7-game series victory over the Boston Bruins. I should also mention, that Michel Therrien's coaching, while it may have had something to do with the victory over the first-place Bruins in 2002, his childish antics almost certainly led to the turning point in a series against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round. It should be noted, that once he wen into a sulk he was unable to use his "formidable coaching skills" to get his team to play for him after he had let them down.

Pittsburgh 2005 to present
On to Pittsburgh, where Therrien holds the job thanks to the skin of his teeth (or rather Crosby's teeth). In 2005-2006, he somehow managed to coach the Penguins to a more hideous second half than they had in the first, though they would later thank him for Jordan Staal.

And, though blessed with top talent, he continues to favour second-rate players he can relate to over proven talent. If you check the Pittsburgh players used, you'll see the similarity in numbers with Montreal's during his years. What's more, there will be just as many "who the hell is that?" moments. While Mark Recchi was once Pittsburgh here and good friend of Lemieux, stubborn Therrien has managed to alienate him twice in three seasons. Just to show Therrien how wrong he was, Recchi has played well once he left, winning a Stanley Cup with 16 playoff points in 2006 and playing point-per-game hockey this time around.

Therrien probably isn't the worst coach the Canadiens have ever had, but he certainly was the worst in all the years I have been old enough to understand what's been going on.

For tonight's game, you can look at Therrien through RDS-coloured glasses if you want, but personally I look forward to the encounter as a chance to play against inferior strategy for once.

I'll be thinking, the way he's also managed to shatter Marc-Andre Fleury's confidence on numerous occasions. I wouldn't let this guy within 100m of Price, Kostitsyn and Plekanec...

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